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As a woman maturing through adolescence and into adulthood, I had repeatedly discovered (as most women do) that I was being lied to about my own body. Historically, this is something that comes with the territory.
We have been lied to about our body’s capacity for pleasure: the female orgasm and clitoris has appeared and disappeared throughout history, depending on various social mores, in a way the male orgasm never has. The phenomenon is such a significant issue for women, one artist has launched a campaign to promote “cliteracy.” (An excellent example is discussed here.)
We have been lied to about our own desire: societies have continually re-imagined nightmares to scare women away from their own sexual desires. Indeed, it was long posited by respected Christian theologians that women were “defective men” and therefore more dangerously carnal. Modernly, and most egregiously, this fear of women’s carnality still leads to female genital mutilation.
We have even been lied to about our own value, continually reduced to our physical pieces like a couch being passed from our father’s home to our husband’s home. Indeed, women are blamed for being objectified, and for taking economic advantage of the imbalance, rather than addressing the objectification itself. Most offensively, this objectification perpetuates slavery morality in the case of women of color.
I thought I’d unraveled these and so many other lies about being female; I thought I’d successfully freed myself from what society wanted to convince me it meant to be a woman. I was victorious; I was smug. Then I got married to an opposite gendered person, decided to try to get pregnant, and discovered that all those lies about my value, my body, and my pleasure are only the tip of the chasm between what we are taught to believe and what is true.
The lies and unnecessary secrecy surrounding female fertility and birthing are truly staggering. These are all the more startling given the fact that I had understood the other lies to be aimed at limiting women to our reproductive potentials. Since I was now seeking to comply with their reproductive mandate – in a hetero-normative fashion, no less – I thought the way would be open to me. Alas, it seems the nefarious web seeking to hide us from ourselves continues even where we are performing our reproductive destiny.
Despite finding myself confused and disoriented, I am still a rebel and I refuse to submit to their secrecy. I have elected to refuse to participate. Instead, I have adopted the tactic of obsessively reporting back to “the females” about each new lie as I uncover it. Here are a few of my favorites:
1) You better get married soon, after 35 your fertility plummets to nearly zero.
Even in 2013 women are making personal choices about their relationships, their jobs, and their families based upon the assumption that a five-year clock starts ticking when they turn 30. This, of course, means that we must find a partner before 30; which means we must be married for a few years first, which means we must have been dating for a while before we marry, which means I need to get married before I am 25 or I will never ever have the chance to have a child. Right?
That gives us only 4 years after turning 21, perhaps completing a degree if we are so lucky, to track down the source of sperm that will give us babies before we miss our window. What boyfriend are we holding onto at 25, what career are we sidelining to “make it work,” and what advanced degree are we wondering about pursuing while we let our fertility window slip by us? Right?
Wrong. According to recent reporting, this is all a colossal lie that is just trying to get us barefoot and pregnant and out of the boardroom. We have time.
They have been lying to us; depriving us and our families of time, resources, and information based upon their outmoded expectations about what we ought to be doing with our own bodies. Fortunately we have developed tools and are beginning to unmask the charade… and tell our friends.
To each of my friends who see how wonderful I feel to be pregnant by choice, by the person I love more than anyone in the world after significant personal and professional triumphs, and worry that they may be missing their window: Don’t fall for the 35 cliff. You have time.
2) You better start trying to get pregnant now, since you never know how much time you have left.
This lie, combined with the first lie, is most insidious because it creates a sense of urgency against a false deadline. I learned from a friend who was seeking IVF treatment that they can actually use a dye to count your follicles using an ultrasound. That’s right, a non-invasive ultrasound can identify the number of eggs a woman has in reserve.
Here, the lie feeds into the IVF industry insofar as only those women willing and able to pay for “elective” procedures have access to this type of diagnostic evaluation. We can go in for pap smears every three years, be handed hormonal birth control like candy, and get hormones prescribed to “manage” menopause, but anything that actually tells us anything about our reproductive health and longevity is elective.
It is only very recently that we have been able to make choices about when we try to conceive, and it is still a choice that is largely restricted to affluent and educated (still mostly white) women. It is outrageous that we are being asked to make these choices in a vacuum when there is a relatively simple method to shed significant light on the reality. My vagina and uterus and ovaries are not a deep cavernous abyss that is too dark to divine the future. They are accessible, knowable, and mine, and I deserve to know as much about them as possible.
To each of my friends who are wondering if they missed their window, or if they should even try getting pregnant: There is a non-invasive test available that can give you that information. We deserve to know. All women deserve to have the medical treatment and diagnostics available to provide as much information about their reproductive potentialities as modern medicine can provide.
3) It is best to have a natural childbirth.
This is less a lie and more a hedonistic challenge women levy at each other as they lumber toward the inevitable cliff of child delivery. This irks me because it presumes that any individual delivery could have been done “better” if the mother didn’t rely on some crutch and just tried to do it “naturally.” In my book, given this history of 50% mortality during childbirth, any delivery where the mother and child both survive is an unmitigated victory that should be celebrated without qualification. Bravo!!
Instead, there are the sad faces and sympathetically tilted heads when they learn you used pain medication, had an episiotomy, or delivered via cesarean section. You know what is unnatural? Robots, cyborgs, and androids. If none of them gestated and delivered the baby, then it was natural. A human body grew another human and managed to transmit it into the world without dying or killing the child. It doesn’t get more miraculously natural than that.
There is no other medical situation in which the chance of mortality is so high for one of the participants and people are judged for using medical assistance. There is no unnatural appendectomy, no bonus points for having your broken bone set without the aid of pain relieving drugs, and no sad judgment for using forceps to remove a marble lodged in your nose (except for the question of how it got there in the first place, but this is not a birds and the bees discussion).
I won’t offer a link or article on this lie because it is ultimately the entire point of this article: We need to stop lying to each other about the value of our experiences as women. This is not a competition; we are all just trying to navigate the world in these forms that happen to have presented anatomically as female. Isn’t that enough mystery? Isn’t that enough of a miracle?
To each of you: Please seek the truth of your experience and refuse to be quiet about it once you discover its essence. We need as much help as we can get and the knowledge is there for us to share if we are not too frightened to speak out.
One website which I find to be a helpful resource as I contemplate the arrival of my first child is evidencebasedbirth.com, which addresses a number of childbirth related topics and provides links to medical research. Start with the chart showing the differences between “routine” and evidence-based care.
Let go of the “oughts” and “shoulds;” we are women of the twenty-first century. Educate and empower yourself so that you can make choices that are best for you with real knowledge instead of the old wives tales and gossip. Surround yourself with people who do the same and you will find these lies start to fall away as your path stretches out ahead.